Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Ash Wednesday Sermon

Text Joel 2:1-2,12-17

Start with clips from this.*

And then tell people bits of this.*

We were Unprepared and Overwhelmed.

Unprepared and Overwhelmed.

You see, it’s been exactly 6 months today since Hurricane Katrina. 6 months of suffering. Six months of cleaning up and picking up.

We see it also in our text for today. The people of Joel’s time were overwhelmed by Locusts and unprepared for the threat or the promise of the coming day of the Lord.

Did they listen to the words of the prophet? I listened to Joel and was struck by one singular thought – They were overwhelmed but Joel never told them why. Joel never said – “You sinners!!” He never told them they brought it onto themselves – Just “Repent!”


Are we listening today? Do we hear condemnation? Or sadness?

Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.

Unprepared and Overwhelmed

Lent is a time of preparation. We are preparing for Holy Week and Easter.
It’s Reminder of our own ephemeral nature.
We gather together not only to remember who we are,
but who God is and what God has given.

unprepared and overwhelmed
How many ways are we being overwhelmed today?

We are
Overwhelmed by:
– full inboxes – each message either a demand “you need those papers in today” or a promise “free mortgages” “end all spam” to the point where we forget why we are getting email

By Parenting:
Do you feel you have no control over what happens to you or your family? Have no time in the day for yourself? Try to do too many things? These are all common feelings for parents…. too much stress affects our thinking and makes it harder to solve problems. We forget the joys that come from our family.

By work
A study conducted by the Families and Work Institute a few years ago showed that more than one third of employees in the United States feels overworked, or overwhelmed by the amount of work they have to do…We forget the reasons we work and the fulfillment it can lead to.

Overwhelmed by nature – Last year it was the Tsunami – this year it was Katrina.
Even if it was 6 months ago,
Survivors, counselors overwhelmed
Many victims too traumatized to discuss the tragedy yet
Deeper still lie the invisible scars of those whose families, homes, and livelihoods were swallowed up by the angry hurricane. The despair and emotional trauma of survivors … across the region are likely to linger long after the aid shipments have stopped. Among the most overwhelming feelings is guilt and depression.

Overwhelmed by emotion/grief/guilt/depression
''I wonder why I remain. I want God to take me, too," said Anna. She lost two of her four children when the water came rampaging into her living room. ''I struggled to find them. I swam, I shouted, but gave up because I had to use all my strength to cling onto a pillar." Overcome by grief.

What does it mean to be overwhelmed? From Websters:
Etymology: Middle English, from 1over + whelmen to turn over, cover up
2 a : to cover over completely : SUBMERGE b : to overcome by superior force or numbers c : to overpower in thought or feeling

How are we to prepare during this season of Lent if we are being overwhelmed?
Repent and Remember. Even Now! Repent! Rend your hearts and not your garments! Become overwhelmed with conviction of your sin and turn to the Lord your God.

In this text – people of Israel are called to repent and remember
shoob – turn around, repent – if you do – with your heart – rending your heart and not your garment, perhaps God himself will turn and leave behind a grain offering and a drink offering.

Is repentance confession?
We are a confessing society – Jerry Springer – confess to all sorts of things – is this repentance?

True repentance – complete turnaround – turn away from self, turn to God – more than a “I sorry” but more of a psychotic break / break with everything we knew before and leave it all behind. It’s overwhelming

Ash Wednesday starts the 40 days of Lent, before Holy week/Easter
40 Represents : the days of Noah, the years of Moses in wilderness, 40 days of Jesus in the wilderness. And so our 40 days of fasting and prayer and study and service.

The imposition of the ashes is a powerful thing. It’s a powerful symbol of how we can be overwhelmed by life. This last Ash Wednesday it seemed so odd to I traced the ashes onto the forehead of my own children. It was overwhelming to place that reminder of mortality onto my own children’s forehead. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

And is this not also the story of God and his beloved children? Gather my children together -- Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;

rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust; Repent and remember the gospel! And what is that Gospel for us today?
That after repentance comes reconciliation
Definition ; restoration to harmony; renewal; removal of inconsistency; reunion; pacification; appeasement; propitiation; atonement; expiation.

Reconciliation – related to the word for forgivness in the Greek
Reconciliation mean to change places with the other, so much that
you will walk in their shoes,
you will laugh their laughter,
weep their tears,
hold their dreams and feel their joy.

What is the Gospel?
That we are indeed reconciled to God, through His son Christ. Through repentance we are reconciled – and he will turn and leave us a grain /drink offering / sacrifice.

In Joel, the locusts had consumed everything – they ate up all the grain, they consumed all the grapes. We are so hungry for reconciliation. How can WE offer a grain offering and a drink offering? How Can we?
God himself has to offer the bread and the wine. Can you imagine Israel’s hunger? Can you imagine how good that freshly baked bread was? How refreshing that cool wine? Can you imagine their hunger?
What do we have to offer? What is it that God wants? Rend your hearts and not your garments.

Are you hungry?

We will not be receiving communion tonight. We will not fill ourselves with the bread and slake our thirst with the cup. Instead we are going to leave hungry. Tonight is a time of preparation. We will come forward and offer to God our repentance. We will prepare – and pray for God to overwhelm us with his Grace and love – and leave hungry for right relationship.

Are you hungry?

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – for they will be filled.


*I am blessed by knowing St. Casserole. This sermon and my prayers are for her and the people of the Gulf States who are still suffering. It's also for Wayne and Reagan, Brent, Ken and Dwayne and those who have given of their time, energy and money to help rebuild.

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